Do you think people are doing the best they can, usually? It’s a question we were asking at book club last night, as we sat around my kitchen table eating my soup and biscuits. We read “The Untethered Soul”, and it seemed ironic to all of us, that the place we used the lessons the most was at work. Because all of us spend 8 (at least!) hours a day there with people with whom we have to get along, by necessity not by choice.
In her book Rising Strong, Brene Brown has a whole chapter on whether or not people are doing the best they can. I remember reading it on my way to Virginia to my nieces wedding. I was reading before the plane took off, and 20 minutes later, I was reading this chapter, the break-up with S very fresh, only 2 weeks before. I was looking so forward to being with my whole family, in their loving arms, for a joyous occasion.
I wasn’t doing well with the break-up. I was devastated. The text I got, ending our relationship, was just so cruel, I couldn’t get past it. I knew I was the one that holding onto the pain would kill. But I couldn’t seem to find a way out of it, and then, I didn’t even know the whole truth, I didn’t even know they’d been together all summer, and S denied it vehemently.
I was sitting in the plane and read this chapter about whether or not most people are doing the best they can. A door was opened for me, with that chapter, to walk through, toward forgiveness. I clutched my kindle to my chest for a moment, and turned to look out the window, so my seat mates wouldn’t see the tears rolling down my cheeks. As I looked out the window, I saw we were flying down Long Island Sound, over places that I loved, that my ex and I had gone to in the boat many times. Places where. I have memories with my son as a toddler, long hot summer days. Shelter Island, Three Mile Harbor, Sag Harbor, Montauk. I have called them places of my dreams.
It was like a gift, to see those places at that moment, the water sparkling in the autumn sun, the islands and harbors clear and crisp. I realized then, that S, and my ex, were doing the best they could at the time. Caught up in something they lost control of, emotions that had their root somewhere deep inside of them. And me too…. I had been writing out my pain here, because that’s how I deal with pain. I knew S read it, I was lashing out at him.
Doing the best I could also.
I hadn’t spoken to him for some days at least, at that time. When the plane landed, I sent him a text telling him that I knew he was doing the best he could, and that I hoped he knew I was too.
I find acknowledging this so much easier than being angry and vengeful. I believe in unconditional love, which means we don’t get to pick and choose who we love. I have been blessed to have unconditional love all my life, and I was flying into it, going to my family. Who was I to judge anyone else? We don’t know the burdens another carries. Even though I thought I knew him well, obviously I didn’t know him that well.
My ex….was all about power and control, because he didn’t know how else to keep people in his life. The idea of unconditional love was foreign to him, and he never realized that the only control he ever had over me was the amount he loved me. Which, by the end, I didn’t feel at all. And he blindsided himself, he thought I had no choice but to stay with him. Thought that right up until I walked out the door.
But I think, in all honesty, he was doing the best he could with the tools he was given, to keep his family together. He just wasn’t able to love, wholly and unconditionally. He didn’t know better. What’s worse, is he didn’t believe he was worthy of love just because he existed. He was taught that love had to be earned, and could be taken away at any moment.
I can’t think of anything more painful that believing for your whole life that you are not worthy of love and belonging. As if, because he was the child of broken people, it changed the fact that he still, on his own, was worthy. He tried, really, to be different, but he didn’t have the tools. I didn’t understand, and was caught up in that cycle of abuse, power, control. I was unequipped to help him.
But yeah, I think people, for the most part are doing the best they can based on their level of consciousness at the time. I try to remember that when I’m at work, and people irritate me. I try to take a breath, and be kind, compassionate. I don’t know what burdens they are carrying.
It’s a lesson worth holding on to. We’re all just walking each other home, after all.